Monday, May 23, 2011

A Garden Round-Up

Sitting smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City at the Will Rogers Gardens is a gem of a building. It's a little jewel box that is easily overlooked. From the street the most noticeable feature is a three-spire metal sculpture that would look right at home on a Bruce Goff blueprint.

Will Rogers Gardens Exhibition Building
Will Rogers Gardens Exhibition Building
1963 Turnbull & Mills
But as we pulled into the parking lot the red brick building became noticeably more interesting. The white concrete trim has distinctive markings- almost a Native American motif. A round rooftop rises up from the center of the building like a drum, vertical steel accents point skyward emphasizing the drum's height over an otherwise low-slung structure. We realized this was no normal rec center! Then we saw stainless-steel letters beside the entrance stating: "WILL ROGERS GARDENS EXHIBITION BUILDING."

We were intrigued.

Built in 1963 this unique building serves as the headquarters for the Oklahoma City Council of Garden Clubs. It is situated at the entrance to the park and gardens at NW 36th Street and Grand Boulevard. Today the building is used for club meetings, educational workshops, exhibitions and flower sales. As we wandered the grounds it became apparent this building was a nice example of Oklahoma modernism- in great shape and relatively unmolested. Here are a few photos from our visit:


We were fortunate that afternoon to meet Leslie Johnson. She is a park worker who appreciates the building's unusual design- and was nice enough to show us around. The circular lobby is surrounded by meeting rooms, a kitchen and the titular exhibit hall. The ceiling of the central space emphasizes the exterior theme with indirect lighting and concentric wood batting. The exposition area is flanked by clerestory windows along the far wall and an entrance framed by the lobby's circular soffit.

One noteworthy modification to the building involves the display cases next to the exhibit entrance. If you look closely you'll notice they're exactly the same dimensions as a classic telephone booth. It's no coincidence! Sometime in the Eighties the pay phones were replaced with corkboard and cabinet doors. You'll notice another "improvement" as you enter the building. At the foot of the towering space-age sculpture are a couple of pieces of statuary that don't quite fit in. As is so often the case with such monuments the intentions are noble. But incorporating classical objects nearby (or in this case inside of) a Mid-Century Modern structure creates a stylistic crash that scuttles the whole. And it's typically done in the name of "sprucing up," which is the greatest irony of all.
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Postscript.